I am going to compare these two poems by thinking about the theme,purpose, mood, language and imagery.
An extract from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde.
In the first verse of this poem, the writer introduces us to amiserable setting of a prison, “the dripping wall, the leaden sky.”This sets us in the mood of how it was to be a prisoner at the end ofthe 19th century.
Oscar Wilde introduces us to another character, a murderer. Throughoutthe poem, Wilde sympathizes with this character. We see this by theuse of language. Wilde tells us about the wardens who watched thisprisoner, “for fear the man might die.” “And by each side a warderwalked.” Although the wardens knew that this man would be put todeath, they still watched him in the event that the prisoner mighttake his own life. Wilde refers to this man as ‘prey’ thus giving theimpression that the wardens are hunting this man’s blood. This use oflanguage reveals that Wilde disapproves of the way the man is treatedand sees this as an unjust act.
The purpose of Wilde’s poem is to protest against the authorities andagainst the way the prisoners are treated. He writes about the harshconditions,
“We rubbed the door, and scrubbed the floors,
And cleaning the shining rails:
And, rank-by-rank, we soaped the plank,
And clattered with the pails.”
The rails were already shiny they didn’t need cleaning.
Wilde also protests against the difficult and monotonous work. Thestructure, language and brisk rhythm in this poem give emphasis to themain point of Wilde’s poem.
“And shaven heads and feet of lead
Make a merry masquerade.”
He uses harsh repetitive words that are difficult to pronounce.
“With blunt and bleeding nails.” Just as this is difficult to say, itwas difficult work to do. The thought of this cruelty makes youquiver.
Oscar Wilde was in prison when he wrote this poem, and therefore hecould not openly address his intended audience. Instead, He used a lotof irony in his writing. He questions the role of compassion throughirony, in such a place with a definitely ironic tone,
“And what should human pity do
Pent up in a murderer’s hole?
What word of grave in such a place
Could help a brother’s sole?”
Wilde is attacking the governor, the doctor, and the Chaplin for nothaving pity on the prisoners. He disapproves of their approaches bylisting their actions coldly. A minister of church should be prayingwith him. Religious men have jobs to pray with him and accompany him.But the Chaplin isn’t doing his job.